21 April 2003
GMOs tainting organic crops/GM crops will destroy farms
*Genetically modified organisms tainting organic crops Suzuki
*GM crops will destroy farms
*Why GM crops must never be planted here
*Sugar industry threatens to scupper WHO
Genetically modified organisms tainting organic crops Suzuki
Scientist says GMO pollen drifts from field to field
April 20, 2003
Environmentalist and scientist David Suzuki is speaking out on the effects of GMOs on the organic-food industry April 24 at a lecture sponsored by the Canadian Food Association called The Risk of Denaturing Nature, scheduled for the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre from 7: 30 to 10 p.m.
Suzuki says that unless the government steps in and slams the brakes on genetically modified food, organics-loving Vancouverites will have no guarantee what they're eating is untainted, and that an international committee set up to look at the idea of labelling food containing genetically modified organisms has already concluded it can only guarantee up to 95 per cent that products are GMO-free, adding, "That's a minimum of five per cent contamination. For the organic food grower, that's a disaster.
It's far too early to tell what the effects will be and the government needs to stop experimenting until we find out more." Suzuki says that no matter how carefully organic farmers work to control their crops, pollen from GMOs can drift up to a kilometre and insects can cross-pollinate from field to field, adding, "This can be a very big problem. With these genes shifting like that, how can there be any absolute guarantee that a crop is free of GMOs?"
Roundup Ready canola seeds are genetically modified to withstand regular spraying of the pesticides and weed killers, and Suzuki says that not only does this create a toxic product that's absorbed into humans, it's also generating super weeds that take stronger and stronger chemicals to kill. Other health risks to humans include allergic responses and antibiotic resistance--since many GMOs also contain antibiotics--that leads to super bugs and viruses.
Trish Jordan, spokeswoman for Monsanto Canada, was cited as confirming that at least 85 per cent of the canola oil sold in Canada contains GMOs, but that it's absolutely safe for human consumption, adding, "It was introduced to crops in 1995 and no health risk has been exposed to date. Mr. Suzuki is entitled to his opinion but GM crops are a huge success story. There are extensive regulations in place to ensure that seeds modified with DNA are safe."
Paddy Doherty, who heads up the Certified Organic Associations of B.C., representing 500 organic growers, producers and distributors across the province, was cited as echoing Suzuki's concerns, saying the canola gene pool is so contaminated, it's almost impossible to grow organic canola, adding, "And now these biotech companies are trying to do the same with wheat and the federal government is supporting them."
GM crops will destroy farms
Western Morning News
09:00 - 21 April 2003
The Government has come under fire from West country campaigners [UK] after a scientific commission revealed that cultivating genetically modified crops could devastate organic farming.
In the light of new documents prepared by the Agriculture, Environment and Biotechnology Commission, more than 4,000 organic farmers nationwide could see their livelihoods endangered if their crops are contaminated by GM plants.
The independent commission suggests that the spread of pollen from genetically modified crops means that certified produce would be forever tainted.
From next month the public will be asked to express their views on the possibility of commercialising GM organisms in the UK.
Ministers hope that the consultation will highlight the public's views on the technology. The results of the debate which is expected to finish in September will ultimately lead to a decision on whether GM plants such as oilseed rape or maize should be grown alongside organic and conventional crops.
But campaigners have already shown their strong disapproval, claiming Whitehall is "biased in favour of GM".
Robert Vint, Totnes-based director of Genetic Food Alert, said there were "multiple risks" involved in adopting the technology. And Mr Vint is convinced that beekeepers will also be affected, losing their jobs.
"They won't be able to stop the bees from collecting pollen from GM farms up to six miles from their hives. There are multiple risks involved.
Wholesalers and retailers will switch to buying honey from other countries to maintain the standards to which they are committed."
Mr Vint said that contamination could occur in the trucks that transport crops, in grain silos, on conveyor belts, in factories or warehouses
He added: "For some sectors there will be no hope. Those businesses that can survive will be exposed to great financial risks. Normally the Government would have to pay compensation for farmers who have been polluted, but ministers have already decided that in the case of GM contamination the polluters will not be liable and so there won't be any compensation."
He added: "The Government is biased in favour of GM. Although there will be a consultation soon, I believe Ministers have already made up their mind."
Currently food certified by the Soil Association as organic must undergo rigorous tests which show the purity and quality of the products. However, it is feared that growing GM crops would lead to a widespread contamination which could ultimately wipe out the entire industry.
Devon-based organic farmer John Watson explained: "Five years ago the National Institute for Agricultural Botany conducted field trials near our farm in Totnes. My son Guy, realised the risks involved in growing organic along with GM plants and decided to move the crops of sweetcorn more than one kilometre away from the field trial."
Mr Watson said that in Canada the degree of GM contamination was so high that the country could no longer return to organic farming. "The effects of pollution are visible only after many years. That's the case of the North American countries which have switched to GM and can no longer go back to organic."
He added: "The reality is that no one knows what the effects of GM crops are and it is wiser to give credence to those seeking a far more cautious approach. The organic sector is a prosperous industry fetching £2 billion every year."
But last night the Department of Food Environment and Rural Affairs, which organises the debate on GM, said the issue was under scientific scrutiny and no clear-cut answer would be given as to GM until the public had their say.
A spokesman said: "The AEBC is an independent body which analyses all data received on GM. It has been established to assess both the benefits and risks of the biotechnology."
Why GM crops must never be planted here
Western Morning News
09:00 - 21 April 2003
As the British Government prepares for a public debate on the commercialisation of GM crops, Totnes-based director of Genetic Food Alert ROBERT VINT
The Government has admitted that contamination from genetically-modified crops could wipe out all 4,000 of Britain's organic farms as well as the UK organic manufacturing and export sector.THE Government has admitted that contamination from genetically-modified crops could wipe out all 4,000 of Britain's organic farms as well as the UK organic manufacturing and export sector.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. GM contamination threatens the whole UK food and farming industry, not just the flourishing organic sector. In response to consistent and clear consumer demand virtually all food producers in the UK have phased out GM ingredients over the last three years. Several imported GM ingredients, such as maize (corn) and soya are already legal in the UK and have had to be labelled since 1999. Even if there was 1 per cent GM contamination of an ingredient it would have to be labelled.
But look on all the ingredient labels in your local supermarket and you will have great trouble finding anything labelled "genetically modified" because nearly all manufacturers have now removed GM ingredients to maintain sales.
Most supermarkets, such as Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Safeway and Sainsbury's, have a strict policy to avoid all GM ingredients, including the oils, starches and sugars that don't yet have to be labelled - and they are well on the way to ensuring that their meat, eggs and dairy products come from animals fed a non-GM diet.
The UK honey trade ensures that all honey comes from hives at least six miles from a GM test crop and the UK wholefood trade, for which I work, maintains a strict "no GM" policy in its 1,500 shops. UK food manufacturers who sell to other EU countries also have to have a strict non-GM policy because of consumer demand across Europe.
GM contamination of imported ingredients has been a problem for a few years but it is still fairly easy to manage. But once GM crops are grown in the UK, contamination becomes a nightmare that can occur at every point in the food chain from field to fork.
Contamination can spread by wind, bees and farm machinery. Non-GM farmers can be contaminated by pollen from neighbouring GM farms - making their crop unsaleable or greatly reducing its sale price.
Contamination of products can occur in the trucks that transport crops, in grain silos, on conveyor belts, in factories and in warehouses. At every point, costly precautions will have to be taken to avoid contamination.
Virtually every farmer and food producer in the UK will be hit financially in three ways.
First, they will have to pay to prevent GM contamination through land segregation, GM testing and machinery and vehicle cleaning.
Second, they will incur costs when contamination does occur - through lost sales and the need to dump contaminated crops and withdraw contaminated products from supermarket shelves.
Finally, by far the greatest cost may be the long-term negative publicity that will result from their buyers and customers knowing that their products have been contaminated. In short, this means that more farmers and manufacturers will lose their jobs, UK food exports will fall and food prices in the shops will increase.
There are no meaningful Government or EU plans to prevent this inevitable contamination. The EU proposals to allow "co-existence" of GM and non-GM crops and to prevent cross-contamination are farcical in the extreme. EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler recently proposed a "voluntary arrangement" whereby GM farmers, if they wish, can inform their neighbouring farmers that they are growing a GM crop. In other words, he suggests that there should be no regulation at all.
For some sectors there will be no hope. Not only will organic businesses close, but beekeepers will lose their jobs because they will not be able to stop their bees from collecting pollen from GM farms up to six miles from their hives. Wholesalers and retailers will switch to buying honey from other countries. As bees are essential for pollinating many crops, as well as orchards, the decline of UK beekeeping could help reduce agricultural yields across the country.
Those businesses that can survive will be exposed to great financial risks. Normally the victims of pollution are entitled to compensation - the Government calls this the "Polluter Pays Principle" - but the Government has decided that in the case of GM contamination the polluters will not be liable and that there will be no compensation.
When businesses face such financial risks they generally buy insurance policies, but the insurance industry is refusing to provide such cover because the financial risks are "inestimable". In fact, the insurance industry refuses to get involved in only two areas - GM food and crops and also nuclear energy and radioactive waste - because there is no proper information on the health and financial risks involved in either.
This brings me, finally, to another group of people who will be exposed to risk - and that is you, the consumer of Britain's food. There is, remarkably, no independent, published scientific research into the long-term effects of GM foods that you or I or any independent expert can go and have a look at. I have spent months trying to find such published research by asking all the Government and industry experts. After telling me that there were piles of such research, they failed to refer me to what I wanted.
The British Medical Association, Royal Society of Canada, Consumers International and other organisations have likewise complained about the absence of this information. Faced with risks and a total lack of legal and financial protection, there is only one option left for Britain's farmers, food manufacturers and consumers - and that is to make absolutely sure that GM crops are never planted in the UK.
Sugar industry threatens to scupper WHO
Sarah Boseley, health editor
The Guardian, Monday April 21, 2003
The sugar industry in the US is threatening to bring the World Health Organisation to its knees by demanding that Congress end its funding unless the WHO scraps guidelines on healthy eating, due to be published on Wednesday. The threat is being described by WHO insiders as tantamount to blackmail and worse than any pressure exerted by the tobacco lobby.
In a letter to Gro Harlem Brundtland, the WHO's director general, the Sugar Association says it will "exercise every avenue available to expose the dubious nature" of the WHO's report on diet and nutrition, including challenging its $406m (GBP260m) funding from the US.
The industry is furious at the guidelines, which say that sugar should account for no more than 10% of a healthy diet. It claims that the review by international experts which decided on the 10% limit is scientifically flawed, insisting that other evidence indicates that a quarter of our food and drink intake can safely consist of sugar.
"Taxpayers' dollars should not be used to support misguided, non-science-based reports which do not add to the health and well-being of Americans, much less the rest of the world," says the letter. "If necessary we will promote and encourage new laws which require future WHO funding to be provided only if the organisation accepts that all reports must be supported by the preponderance of science."
The association, together with six other big food industry groups, has also written to the US health secretary, Tommy Thompson, asking him to use his influence to get the WHO report withdrawn. The coalition includes the US Council for International Business, comprising more than 300 companies, including Coca-Cola and Pepsico.
The sugar lobby's strong-arm tactics are nothing new, according to Professor Phillip James, the British chairman of the International Obesity Taskforce who wrote the WHO's previous report on diet and nutrition in 1990. The day after his expert committee had decided on a 10% limit, the World Sugar Organisation "went into overdrive", he said. "Forty ambassadors wrote to the WHO insisting our report should be removed, on the grounds that it would do irreparable damage to countries in the developing world."
Prof James was called in by the American embassy in Geneva "to explain to them why they were suddenly getting an enormous amount of pressure from the state department to have our report retracted". The sugar industry, he discovered, had hired one of Washington's top lobbying companies.
The sugar lobby was unsuccessful that time, but now, he says, "we are getting a replay, but much more powerfully based, because the food industry seems to have a much greater influence on the Bush government".
Since his 1990 report, the International Life Sciences Institute, founded by Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, General Foods, Kraft and Procter and Gamble, has also gained accreditation to the WHO and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.
At one point, says Prof James, "I was asked not to send any more emails about any of the dietary aspects of health that related to sugar. I was told that within 24 hours of my sending a note, the food industry would be telephoning and arranging dinners."
Aubrey Sheiham, professor of dental public health at University College,
London, Medical School, said he also encountered the strength of the
sugar lobby when he was one of the experts involved in putting together
an EC guideline called Eurodiet.
"I wrote the sugar part of that," he said. "When we met in Crete - in June 2000 - the sugar people said if the 10% 'limit' was in, the whole report would be blocked. I remember we went into a huddle with various people and some of the diplomats, and we were meeting in people's bedrooms and saying, how can we work around this?"
In the end, he said, they worked out that a recommendation that nobody should eat sugar more than four times a day was equivalent to a 10% limit. But he considered the committee had been bullied.
The Sugar Association objects to the new report having been published in draft on the WHO's website for consultation purposes, without what it considers "a broad external peer-review process". It wants a full economic analysis of the impact of the recommendations on all 192 member countries. In the letter to Dr Brundtland, it demands that Wednesday's joint launch with the Food and Agriculture Organisation be cancelled.
The report, Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, has already been heavily criticised by the soft drinks industry, whose members sell virtually everywhere in the world, including developing countries where malnutrition is beginning to coexist with the obesity common in affluent countries.
The industry does not accept the WHO report's conclusion that sweetened soft drinks contribute to the obesity pandemic. The Washington-based National Soft Drink Association said the report's "recommendation on added sugars is too restrictive". The association backs a 25% limit.
The WHO strongly rejects the sugar lobby's criticisms. An official said a team of 30 independent experts had considered the scientific evidence and its conclusions were in line with the findings of 23 national reports which have, on average, set targets of 10% for added sugars.
In the letter to Mr Thompson, the sugar lobby relies heavily on a recent report from the Institute of Medicine for its claim that a 25% sugar intake is acceptable. But last week, Harvey Fineberg, president of the institute, wrote to Mr Thompson to warn that the report was being misinterpreted. He says it does not make a recommendation on sugar intake.